She has yet to declare her plans, but Acting Mayor Kim Janey certainly is acting as though she’s running for a full term in Boston’s executive office. Her stint as City Hall’s temporary steward, and the national attention her historic role brings, means she has a clear leg up in a race she hasn’t officially joined.
Hints that Janey is running in this fall’s mayoral election abound.
There is her title itself. Janey’s administration has excised the “acting” part of her salutation from press releases, public schedules, and the physical backdrops to news conferences. Inside City Hall, she is Mayor Janey, with no nods to a placeholder title.
There is her public schedule. Since her swearing-in March 24, Janey has held press availabilities and photo-ops nearly every day, a schedule that has boosted her visibility — and stolen the spotlight from her would-be mayoral rivals.
There is Janey’s use of the services of a well-known local public relations firm, whose founding partner, Doug Rubin, has worked as a campaign strategist for Elizabeth Warren, Deval Patrick, and Joseph P. Kennedy III, among others.
And yes, there are tweets. Most notable among them was a fund-raising link sent out from her personal Twitter account. The tweet said Janey “knows it’s not an option to go back to the way things were before. Instead, we have to go better,” and it included a graphic underscoring that message that looked straight out of a campaign.
“Will you support Mayor Kim Janey’s vision for a stronger Boston?” the message implored. Whether Janey would use the funds raised for a mayoral run was not explicitly stated.
Perhaps most telling are the coy non-answers she provides when asked, both by local and national journalists in recent weeks, about a potential mayoral run.
“I am certainly considering running,” she told Al Roker on NBC’s “Today.”
A person with knowledge of Janey’s plans said an announcement regarding her intentions is expected this week.
The mayoral field is already crowded: City Councilors Andrea Campbell, Annissa Essaibi George, and Michelle Wu have all declared. So have John Barros, the city’s former economic development chief, and state Representative Jon Santiago.
It’s not hard to see the benefits the role of acting mayor brings to Janey, should she decide to become a candidate.
“She is going to be one of the front-runners, if not the front-runner, if she decides to run,” said Doug Chavez, a Boston-based political strategist, who is not working for any mayoral campaign.
Boston’s city government is structured so that the mayor has enormous power, and it’s easier to generate headlines and be featured on local news broadcasts when you’re the city’s top pol. And recently Janey has done just that, crisscrossing the city for an array of public appearances.
On Thursday, March 25, she was in South Boston, visiting local businesses and partaking in a National Medal of Honor Day event. The next day she held a news conference before receiving a COVID-19 vaccine shot at a Roxbury YMCA and participated in an interfaith service in the South End. Saturday, March 27, she performed the ceremonial puck drop at the Women’s National Hockey League Championship Final in Brighton.
Last Monday morning found her publicly pushing for the MBTA to restore service cuts outside state transportation offices downtown, taking on an issue — transit equity — that has long been seen as a bailiwick of a potential mayoral rival, Wu. Tuesday, Janey held a City Hall news conference that included COVID-19 updates and participated in a roundtable discussion about reopening schools at a Southie elementary school, an event that included the US education secretary.
Paul Watanabe, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston, said being mayor gives Janey an opportunity to tell her story and reinforce that story on a daily basis.
“It’s an advantage, there’s no question,” said Watanabe, who is among the observers who predict Janey will jump into the race.
Thomas M. Menino, like Janey, was a City Council president who became acting mayor when then-Mayor Raymond Flynn left to accept a presidential appointment. Menino emerged from a crowded mayoral field in 1993 to seize victory at the ballot box that fall. Being acting mayor was a significant boost to Menino in that campaign, political observers say. He would go on to be the longest-serving mayor in the city’s history.
Many things in Boston are different compared to 1993, and there are formidable candidates already in the mayoral race, said Watanabe. But Janey, who will serve as acting mayor for several months before this September’s preliminary election, would be the only candidate who would not need to speak hypothetically about what she would do as city executive. If she can avoid making significant mistakes, her acting mayoral tenure will be an election season boon.
“How she performs in that role is going to be crucial,” Watanabe said.
Chavez pointed out that Janey’s history-making, as the first Black mayor of Boston, a city whose history is rife with racism, and the city’s first female mayor — whether acting or not — is a story that has drawn national attention. Janey has been interviewed on the “Today” show and by Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. Her acting mayoralty has also garnered coverage in The New York Times.
And the incumbency advantage may be enhanced in a COVID-19 pandemic, when traditional grass-roots campaigning of house parties and canvassing door-to-door is much less of a factor.
“She has the power of the bully pulpit,” said Chavez. “Anything you say or do, everyone is going to be paying attention.”
Former city councilor Michael McCormack said Janey’s historic status may help shield her from criticism from other mayoral candidates.
“Yes, it certainly makes it tough,” he said. “She made history.”
Still at some point, McCormack expects the “gloves to come off” and other candidates “to make the case why you should vote for them instead of Kim Janey.”
In the meantime, Janey continues to make the most of the spotlight. On Tuesday, Janey announced that Boston is making a record $50 million in federal funding available to help renters stay in housing amid the ongoing public health crisis. Multiple local outlets, including the Globe, covered the announcement. And there may be more high-profile announcements to come from Janey, with the city expected to receive hundreds of millions in federal stimulus money amid the pandemic.
Janey’s role isn’t without its potential pitfalls that could damage her in voters’ eyes. These thorny issues include deciding the fate of Boston police commissioner Dennis White, who is on leave amid an investigation into a 1999 domestic abuse allegation, and the reopening of the city’s school district during the pandemic.
Janey would be behind in fund-raising if she chose to run. She had $130,000 in her campaign coffers as of the end of February, compared to $800,000-plus for the campaigns of Campbell and Wu, who both announced their bids last year. Still, Chavez did not think Janey would need to raise the same amount as other leading candidates, given her advantages as acting mayor.
Katherine Levine Einstein, a political science professor at Boston University, said incumbency advantages are even more pronounced in local elections, when more voters are likely to come “to the table with way less information.” In these races, factors like name recognition really matter, she said.
For instance, Janey, said Levine Einstein, will have time to become the face of equity-related vaccine initiatives. Janey recently announced a $1.5 million grant program aimed at supporting equitable access.
“There are a lot of things she can get credit for,” said Levine Einstein.
“She would absolutely be a serious contender.”
Danny McDonald can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.